Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Finding new Swiss Climbs - Lago di Narèt

Another epic climb in the record books for us.
After 7 years of summer cycling trips to Switzerland, you become pretty familiar with all the big epic climbs.  In preparation of our 2015 trip, I put some effort in researching big climbs we had not yet done.  Thanks to the brilliant work of Will and his site Cycling Challenge, I was able to find an enticing climb that was new to us.  Will is friends with our friend, Chris.  Anybody that likes to ride with Chris is okay by our standards, so I knew I could trust Will's report 100%.   I asked another friend, Howard, about this climb and he said it was a real bugger.  That was all I needed to hear.  Lago di Narèt was officially on our list for climbs to do in 2015.

We based ourselves in Bignasco, a tiny little town at the bottom of Maggia Valley, the valley we'd ride up en route to the high dam lake Narèt.  You have a choice of 2 valleys of which to ride up from Bignasco; Maggia and Bavona.  The day we arrived, we rode up through Bavona in order to shake down our rental bikes.  It was a beautiful quiet area dotted with ancient stone and wood structures and absent of any electric poles or lines.  It turns out that all electric requirements are met by solar power.  I would love to explore this area a bit further in the future. 
day before riding up Via Bavona from Bignasco, beautiful wild valley.
The route for Lago di Narèt is pretty straightforward.  You head up the road running alongside the Maggia river and keep going up up up.  There were never any confusing intersections (that I recall) and it was always obvious which way to go.  Things are pleasant enough for the first 8 miles and then you hit the first area of tight steep switchbacks.  It was here I noticed evidence of goat droppings all over the road.  Sure enough, there they were on the side watching me with great curiosity.  I did see a small little herd ambling across the road, but never did see one of the huge herds that are quite common in the area.

The goats seemed interested in our activity.
I liked the switchbacks.  Nice and tight, you made a lot of progress in a short distance.

switchbacks on top of switchbacks

on our way to Mogno
About 10 miles in our ride we saw the little hamlet of Mogno off to the right.  We took a diversion there in order to see the Mountain Church designed by Mario Botta.  It's a lovely quaint area and we even found a add-on bonus 21% grade climb just past the church.
Church made from alternating layers of granite and marble with no windows.  Only source of light is from the glass roof.
After our jaunt around Mogno, we went back to the main road and resumed our climbing.  At this point it was still a manageable pleasant climb without any crazy steep gradients.  (Note: We all agreed after we completed the ride, that ignorance is best for this one. Sometimes it's best not knowing what you're in for.)
The token tunnel
Still riding along blissfully ignorant of the arduous task ahead, we made each turn with eyes wide over the fun and intrigue the climb had delivered so far.

still climbing
From Mogno, it's about another 3 miles of climbing and you approach the first dam for the gorgeous Lago di Sambuco.  Just before this spot, there was a food truck stand.  On our way back down we were hoping the stand was still open and it was.  It made for a great refueling spot.  There is a nice grassy area perfect for sprawling out to enjoy the warmth of the sun and take in the fabulous mountain view.  There's also a handy water fountain to refill your bottles (one of the wonderful treats included in your Swiss riding - water fountains are everywhere).

approaching the first dam, an impressive sight
The road, Val Sambuco as it is called from here on, skirts along the right side of the lake.  Enjoy yourself as you cruise along  effortlessly.  It's a couple of miles to get to the end of the lake.  That is when your ride is about to change.  Your effort meter is going to be pegged for the remaining 6 miles. Pegged.
Lago Sambuco

Feels good to spin along - what a view!
Fun time is over.  You're at the other end of the lake and it's time to climb.  This climb doesn't mess around either.
And this is where it starts to go UP!
It goes straight up.  Forget switchbacks, it just goes up.  You think you're going to fall over on your back, left to flap around like an upside turtle.  Not only does it take your physical strength, but mental as well.  Don't let it get to you.  Keep grinding it out.  It will let up a wee bit, but not for a while.
Steep with no end in sight

still steep. 
You can see Lago Sambuco way in the background.  That gives you an idea of just how long and steep the road is as you climb up from it.

Yea, a switchback!
Finally after 3 grueling miles of relentless steepness, you get into some switchbacks.

you can see how steep this switchback is 
The terrain changes a bit and the road opens up stretching before you to the right on a long sweep.

the road takes a dramatic sweep up to the right
We cross over the river flowing from a small lake to our left, Laghetti Lassolo.  You can see the road working its way up more hilly peaks as the scenery becomes more dramatic.

crossing over river fed from Lake Lassolo just to our left.

scenery is fabulous
The road continues on past another little lake, Superiore, as the switchbacks bring you up to the last pitch.

Laghetti Superiore
Making it through the last of the big switchbacks above Lago Superiore before reaching Lago di Narèt. You can barely make out the 2 cyclists in the right side of the picture - gives you an idea of the scale of grandeur!

There it is, you see the dam up ahead.  The road dips and skirts by Lake Scuro before climbing again for one last switchback up to the dam.  As we flew down that little downhill, I used every bit of momentum to carry me up to the last of the 6,000+ feet we'd just ascended.

There's the dam!  Lago di Narèt is just on the other side!

The last switchback, you're at the top!
What a well deserved reward it was to reach the top.  The beautiful blue lake surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks as far as the eye can see.  It's worth taking your time once up here and riding around to take it all in.

23 miles later we're at the top of the dam!
We were slightly dismayed that there wasn't a food stand anywhere to be found.  We rode across the dam and went 4 wheeling around the lake.  Surely there would be something!  No.  No restaurant or hütte for us.  Just stunning scenery and the great sense of satisfaction that we made it on 2 wheels. That was good enough for us.  We continued on and rode across the other side of the dam.

Road around the lake leads to another small lake and hiking trails.

Riding across other side of the dam
Once we had our fill of eye candy, it was time to start the descent.  The descent is, of course, great fun because you get to take in all the scenery without any effort.  Needless to say, we had lots of stops along the way so we could "oooh" and "aahhh"!

Starting the descent

We had made a day of the ride, so by now we were a bit hungry.  Remembering the food truck at Fontanalba, we were thrilled to see it was still open as we came past the dam at Lake Sambuco.  We each gobbled down a panini and an ice cream treat - Pralinato - Mmmm, my favorite!  The sun felt so good that we couldn't resist having a nice rest.  It was the perfect spot for it.
Great spot for taking a break
I highly recommend making the effort to do this climb if you're ever in Switzerland.  It's a challenge for sure, but well worth it. This definitely fits the bill for a Hillseeker.   Thanks again to Will for his fantastic website - otherwise we may have missed this fine gem!

What a view!

No comments: